Fire on Earth: An Introduction

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Earth is the only planet known to have fire.  The reason is both simple and profound: fire exists because Earth is the only planet to possess life as we know it. Fire is an expression of life on Earth and an index of life’s history. Few processes are as integral, unique, or ancient.

Fire on Earth puts fire in its rightful place as an integral part of the study of geology, biology, human history, physics, and global chemistry. Fire is ubiquitous in various forms throughout Earth, and belongs as part of formal inquiries about our world. In recent years fire literature has multiplied exponentially; dedicated journals exist and half a dozen international conferences are held annually. A host of formal sciences, or programs announcing interdisciplinary intentions, are willing to consider fire. Wildfire also appears routinely in media reporting.

This full-colour text, containing over 250 illustrations of fire in all contexts, is designed to provide a synthesis of contemporary thinking; bringing together the most powerful concepts and disciplinary voices to examine, in an international setting, why planetary fire exists, how it works, and why it looks the way it does today. Students, lecturers, researchers and professionals interested in the physical, ecological and historical characteristics of fire will find this book, and accompanying web-based material, essential reading for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in all related disciplines, for general interest and for providing an interdisciplinary foundation for further study.

  • A comprehensive approach to the history, behaviour and ecological effects of fire on earth
  • Timely introduction to this important subject, with relevance for global climate change, biodiversity loss and the evolution of human culture.
  • Provides a foundation for the interdisciplinary field of Fire Research
  • Authored by an international team of leading experts in the field
  • Associated website provides additional resources
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About the author

Andrew C. Scott is Professor of Applied Palaeobotany and a Distinguished Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, England

David M.J.S.Bowman is Professor of Environmental Change Biology in the School of Plant Science at the University of Tasmania, Australia

William J. Bond is Professor of Plant Ecology in the Department of Botany at the University of Cape Town, South Africa

Stephen J. Pyne is Regent’s Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA

Martin E. Alexander is an Adjunct Professor of Wildland Fire Science and Management at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and formerly a senior fire behavior research officer with the Canadian Forest Service

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Additional Information

John Wiley & Sons
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Published on
Oct 31, 2013
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Science / Life Sciences / Botany
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For over 400 million years, fire has been an integral force on our planet. It can be as innocent as a bonfire or as destructive and lethal as a wildfire. Human history is rife with fires that have leveled cities—the Fire of Moscow in 1812 that destroyed seventy-five percent of the city, the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that took down 17,000 buildings, and the fire that obliterated San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake are just a few. Fire is a force of nature that can consume everything in its wake, and yet it also has tremendous powers of cleansing and renewal. At the end of the day, we can’t live without it. In Fire, Stephen J. Pyne offers a concise history of fire and its use by humanity, explaining how fire has been at the core of hunting, foraging, farming, herding, urbanizing, and managing nature reserves. He depicts how it gave humans power in ancient times, which resulted in humanity beginning to reshape the world for its own benefit. He describes how fire was used by aboriginal societies and the ways agricultural societies added control over fuel, but warns that our mastery of the science and art of fire has not given us complete control—fire disasters throughout history have defined cultures, and unexpected fires that begin as the result of other disasters have shocking effects. Pyne traces fire’s influence on landscapes, art, science, and even climate, exploring the power a simple spark has over our imaginations. Lavishly illustrated with a host of rare and unexpected images, Fire is a sizzling and accessible tale of our relationship with this primal natural force.
Its fires help to give the Interior West a peculiar character, fundamental to its natural and human histories. While a general aridity unites the region—defined here as Nevada, Utah, and western Colorado—its fires illuminate the ways that the region’s various parts show profoundly different landscapes, biotas, and human settlement experiences.

In this collection of essays, fire historian Stephen J. Pyne explains the relevance of the Interior West to the national fire scene. This region offered the first scientific inquiry into landscape fire in the United States, including a map of Utah burns published in 1878 as part of John Wesley Powell’s Arid Lands report. Then its significance faded, and for most of the 20th century, the Interior West was the hole in the national donut of fire management. Recently the region has returned to prominence due to fires along its front ranges; invasive species, both exotics like cheatgrass and unleashed natives like mountain pine beetle; and fatality fires, notably at South Canyon in 1994.

The Interior West has long been passed over in national fire narratives. Here it reclaims its rightful place.

Included in this volume: A summary of 19th- and 20th-century fire history in the Interior West How this important region inspired U.S. studies of landscape fire Why the region disappeared from national fire management discussions How the expansion of invasive species and loss of native species has affected the region’s fire ecology The national significance of fire in the Interior West
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